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Transitional & Modern Type Families | Typography | Graphic Design & Publishing Center

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Transitional & Modern Type Families

by Thomas Phinney

Continuing from the previous page, Part Three of "A Brief History of Typography"

"TRANSITIONAL" TYPE is so-called because of its intermediate position between old style and modern. Most notable representative fonts of the Transitional Age were Baskerville, and Fournier

The distinguishing features of transitional typefaces include vertical stress and slightly higher contrast than old style typefaces, combined with horizontal serifs. The most influential examples are Philippe Grandjean's "Romain du Roi" for the French Crown around 1702, Pierre Simon Fournier's work circa 1750, and John Baskerville's work from 1757 onwards. Although today we remember Baskerville primarily for his typeface designs, in his own time people were much more impressed by his printing, which used an innovative glossy paper and wide margins.

Later transitional types begin to move towards "modern" designs. Contrast is accentuated, and serifs are more flattened. Current examples of such are based on originals from approximately 1788-1810, and are dominated by British isles designers, such as Richard Austin (Bell, 1788), William Martin (Bulmer) and Miller & Richard (Scotch Roman, which eventually became Bookman).

For currently available examples of transitional type, there are many types which bear Baskerville's name, descending from one or another of his designs. Less common today is P.S. Fournier's work, although several versions of it are available in digital or metal form. Although Scotch Roman has been a very common face in metal type usage since Monotype's 1920 revival, it is not a common digital face. Bell, on the other hand, can be found at Monotype, along with Bulmer, which has received more attention since its revival by Monotype in late 1994.

The Modern Type Movement

The most well known fonts to represent the Modern type movement are Didot, Bodoni, and Walbaum. "Modern" typefaces are distinguishable by their sudden-onset vertical stress and strong contrast. Modern serifs and horizontals are very thin, almost hairlines. Although they are very striking, these typefaces are sometimes criticized as cold or harsh, and may not be quite as readable for very extensive text work, such as books.

A number of designers, perhaps semi- independently, created the first modern typefaces in the late 1700s and early 1800s. One of the first, and ultimately the most influential, was Giambattista Bodoni, of Parma, Italy. Ironically, historians of type often relate the development of the "modern" letterforms to a then-current obsession with things Roman — in this case the strong contrast and sharp serifs of classical Roman inscriptions.

Today, the most common "modern" typefaces are the dozens of reinterpretations of Bodoni's work (which itself evolved over time). One of the most successful reinterpretations is the 1994 ITC Bodoni by Sumner Stone et. al., featuring three different optical sizes. Although little is seen of Didot, a reinterpretation by Justus Erich Walbaum (ca. 1800) sees occasional use.

Look for the characteristic thin stroke serifs, coupled with heavy leg strokes. Similar fonts are : Bodoni Ultra, Monotype Bodoni, Torino Modern, Berthold Bodoni Antiqua Pro, Parma, and , designed for use with the METAFONT program written by Donald Knuth which generates characters from a set of templates and a list of modifiable parameters. (Download the Computer Modern Roman family free from the American Mathematical Society

NEXT : Sans Serif: Gothic and Grotesque


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Posted August 30, 2010. Tags: education, fonts, fonts fest, history, learning, training, typeface, typography


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The distinguishing features of transitional typefaces include vertical stress and slightly higher contrast than old style typefaces, combined with horizontal serifs.

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